Lynn: In schools these days, we talk about science in terms of the scientific method, theories, observation, and conclusions. Pedagogically, this is excellent, but it is important not to lose sight of something that both drives and excites kids: asking questions.
Young biologist Brent Hughes did just that. His question? Why was the fertilizer-polluted Elkhorn Slough in California so healthy when so much of the sea isn’t? Author Patricia Newman brings Brent’s question to youngsters in Sea Otter Heroes: the Predators That Saved an Ecosystem (2017). Science comes to life in this intriguing book as Newman describes Brent’s efforts to solve the puzzle. It doesn’t hurt that an adorable creature is at the heart of this story. I defy you to find a child who can’t be drawn in by the cover photograph of a sea otter, the floating definition of cute.
But while the photographs are wonderful, there is much more to this book. Newman gives readers a solid story of a scientist at work, carefully employing the scientific method. After setting the stage with Brent Hughes’ question, Newman provides readers with background information about the situation, describing the ecosystem and its important players like seagrass, the algae that grows on the grass, a type of sea slug called a sea hare, crabs, and the top predator, the otter. What did the otter have to do with the health of the ecosystem? Newman fills us in on Hughes’ working hypothesis and the steps he used to put it to the test. The story of his investigation reads like a scientific detective story, and the results are both fascinating and encouraging. Newman’s clear explanations make the process easily understandable and are sure to inspire science-minded kids to ask their own questions.
In addition to the photos, the book is illustrated with visually inviting charts and graphs. Insets called “Otterisms” provide additional information on sea otters, including their history with people, biological traits, and habits. Plentiful back matter includes directions for a Mesocosm experiment, thought-provoking questions, recommended additional sources, a bibliography and glossary. A terrific book for use in elementary and middle school science classes, this is a book that “otter” be added to collections everywhere.